The pandemic years certainly put a damper on a number of activities worth doing, especially those that encourage socializing and connecting with fellow human beings. Sighs of relief were exhaled all over the world when the pandemic’s scourge was cut to a manageable level. Things are inching towards normal, including the revival of Christmas traditions that were severely verboten in the past two years. One of these is Christmas caroling.
On December 13 last year, an opportunity arose for a talented member of the Philippine Nurses Associated of Hawaii (PNAH) to showcase his ala-Harry Connick, Jr voice during the Christmas party for the ALS Community here in Hawaii. The holiday party had been a tradition in the community for more than twenty years. But like everything else during the two years of the pandemic, the community had to do without. This situation was particularly sad because the holiday party was one of the few times the community got together and NOT talk about the disease at all. ALS effectively isolates persons with ALS (pALS) and their families from gatherings brought on by physical vulnerability, immobility, and difficulty of communication.
Major (Ret.) Ramon Sumibcay, a US Army and Navy veteran, has long been known as a crooner of repute in the Filipino Hawaii community. He has sung in local plays, musicales, and variety shows. With his wife, Dr. Lorna Imperial (also a nurse from the PNAH- East Coast region), he established Island Productions, a company spotlighting local talents. Although inviting Ramon to entertain and lead the Christmas caroling at the ALS community party was done at the 11th hour, his willingness to juggle his busy singing schedule to accommodate the community’s request was thoroughly appreciated by all! He came with his wife, Lorna, and right away, both felt at home with the group that included service providers, pALS and families currently living with ALS, and individuals whose pALS has long been dead but still felt part of the community.
Ramon started the caroling portion with a very appropriate song, “Away in a Manager,” to bring everyone’s focus on the real reason for the season: the First Christmas. Everyone applauded his choice, particularly since the event was being held at a place for veneration of the Child Jesus, the Honolulu Central SDA Church on Nuuanu. The huge covered lanai provided a cozy venue protecting the frail among the attendees from the occasional blustery wind.
Having just arrived from the Philippines, Ramon followed with a nostalgic take on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” This song plucks at the heartstrings, “home” being different things to different people, although almost always describing comfort, contentment, love, and everything warm and fuzzy – something which many in the audience long for constantly in their condition.
After the two solo numbers, Ramon shared the mic with the audience by daring each table to sing one Christmas ditty that he accompanied with the guitar. The audience rose to his challenge with fun and spirited versions of Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, and other jolly songs of the season and ending, appropriately, with “Mele Kalikimaka is the Thing to Say.”
As was tradition, the Christmas Holiday Party hosted by the three non-profit service agencies involved with ALS (ALS Ohana, ALS Foundation of Hawaii, and ALSA-Golden West Chapter), did not have the dollars to give but Lorna and Ramon gladly participated in the buffet dinner. They even won a raffle prize each!
The PNAH is acutely aware that when the gift of music is shared in a season that is dedicated to giving and sharing, it is not only those who listen that receive the gift. Christmas caroling, after all, is a Filipino tradition back home in the Philippines. Christmas carolers can be as impulsively put-together as a group of young kids with makeshift percussion instruments made of bottle caps, sticks, pots and pans or professionally put together bands/choirs that go out to sing in neighborhoods for fundraising purposes. Carolers, who bestow of their talent, time, and singing voices likewise accrue the blessings of continued camaraderie, a sense of purposeful sharing, and the blessing of seeing happiness reflected in the faces of their audience.
The world is a better place this Christmas. Sharing time and talent selflessly in a season where there is a great demand for them, shows a love for service and a sincere desire to uplift spirits. Let us all practice the Lord’s message every Christmas, but wouldn’t it be vastly more special if there were “Love, Peace, Hope, and Goodwill to all” every single day?
** The original version of this article first appeared on Inside PNAA, volume 10, issue 10; mypnaa.org.